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Apple will tell Congress strong codes protect against terrorists

Aaron Pressman
·Technology Reporter

Apple (AAPL) general counsel Bruce Sewell plans to tell Congress on Tuesday that strong encryption in iPhones protects users from terrorist and hacker attacks while rejecting calls from the FBI to weaken the popular phone's security protections.

"We feel strongly that our customers, their families, their friends and their neighbors will be better protected from thieves and terrorists if we can offer the very best protections for their data," Sewell said in a copy of his opening statement released by the House Judiciary Committee on Monday. "And at the same time, the freedoms and liberties we all cherish will be more secure."

Sewell is scheduled to speak on a panel with with New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance and Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor Susan Landau before the committee at a hearing starting at 1 p.m. The three speakers will be proceeded by FBI director James Comey, who will address the committee first and by himself.

The hearing comes as Apple and law enforcement agencies remain locked in a bitter dispute over the security measures the company added to the iPhone in recent years. Two weeks ago, a U.S. magistrate judge in California ordered Apple to create new software at the behest of the the FBI to weaken the security on a phone used by deceased San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook so the agency could try to guess Farook's passcode more easily.

The FBI says it can't get access to data on the phone, which may provide evidence of further terrorist activities, without Apple's help. Apple is appealing the order, arguing that the new software it has been ordered to create could also be used by other governments and hackers, thus weakening the security of hundreds of millions of iPhone users around the world.

Comey has defended the FBI request in testimony at other Congressional hearings last week and in a blog post. The Judiciary Committee did not provide an advance copy of Comey's expected remarks, however.

"We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist's passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly," Comey wrote in a short blog post on Feb 21. "That's it. We don't want to break anyone's encryption or set a master key loose on the land."

Vance plans to tell the committee that Apple's 2014 decision to encrypt most of the data stored on iPhones in a way that the company can't crack "severely harms" many criminal cases around the country. "Smartphone encryption has real-life consequences for public safety, for crime victims and their families," Vance's prepared remarks noted.

WPI professor Landau, an expert on cybersecurity, plans to warn the committee that the FBI's views are outdated and inconsistent with recent technological developments. "Instead of embracing the communications and device security we so badly need for securing US public and private data, law enforcement continues to press hard to undermine security in the misguided desire to preserve simple, but outdated, investigative techniques," she said in her prepared testimony.

As the security dispute moves from the courtroom to the policy arena, Apple's lawyer also plans to mention several recent government efforts backing strong encryption, including a 2013 report requested by President Obama in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations.

That may be to counter a remark by Obama press secretary Josh Earnest on Feb. 17. "Obviously, the Department of Justice and the FBI can count on the full support of the White House as they conduct an investigation to learn as much as they possibly can about this particular incident," Earnest said when asked about the Apple-FBI legal dispute.

But, a section of the 2013 report by the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies that Sewell plans to reference, concluded that the government should make clear it will not "in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial encryption."